We caught up with the lead vocalist and keyboardist of the English rock band Enter Shikari ahead of Mental Health Foundation Live to chat all things music and mental health
Rou, who will headline MHF’s 70th birthday live music event, has previously been open about his mental health and his experience with anxiety. We catch Rou to chat about mindfulness, meditation, seeing a psychiatrist and how the Victorian-era ‘stiff upper lip’ is still causing damage, during Enter Shikari’s summer tour.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you learned forms of mindfulness and meditation exercises. Is that something you’ve weaved into being a part of your life? Or is it something that you dip into as needed, when maybe anxiety gets a little higher than usual?
I guess it’s a little bit of both. There are things that I've tried to introduce into my life as a routine. I know there are some things, perhaps when things are a little extreme, that I’ll also employ. The first big one for me that I try and do frequently is yoga... that’s what I find really good for me because my life is particularly manic - a lot of traveling.
It’s a lot of extremes, I suppose. Going from very noisy environments, full of people and people looking at me, to the complete opposite - coming off the tour and being quite solitary. All these extremes are nice to be sort of balanced by things like yoga and meditation. It’s just another tool really to give my life a bit of balance and a bit of center. It makes the changes from the different atmospheres I’m always in kind-of easier, and it gives me a bit of stability and a bit of footing.
Gratitude is also helpful; we’re focusing very much on the negative aspects of our lives. And that’s the thing with anxiety - it’s an evolutionary thing that’s in our biology to focus on the negative, because it’s a way of surviving. So I find it quite good to train the brain, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day to focus on the positive aspects. Also things like exercise and, for me, writing music is how I achieve what people call the ‘flow state,’ which is one of the only ways to make your various anxiety and trepidations disappear. Anything creative is amazing for that.
You've previously said that you found working with a psychiatrist really helpful, as they were able to put a label on your mental health concerns. Can you explain why that was helpful?
I think it’s helpful in general for people to be able to target exactly what it is that they have, so they can understand it more and then can learn how to deal with it. And also, it kind of normalises it. You may think ‘oh my God, what is this crazy thing that I’m dealing with?’ You realise that it’s an actual - a condition, for want of a better word - lots of people are dealing with, you know, that classic thing of just making you feel less alone, less strange and idiosyncratic.
But for me, I think with this particular cocktail of mental health issues, it was really important. Because with generalised anxiety disorder - which on a day-to-day basis I can deal with, it's not debilitating in any way - it’s when I coupled that with insomnia that it got worse. Sleep deprivation makes every ailment worse, especially every mental ailment. When those two come together, it hikes my anxiety up and tenfold.
When I saw a psychiatrist, it was after one of the worst panic attacks I’ve ever had, which subsequently made me not sleep for a week. So I was in a very strange state at that point. He said, “You’re not gonna die. You’re okay. You’re going to get through this. This isn’t your new normal. This is a dip and you’re going to climb back out of it.”
People can say that to you as friends and family but, when it comes from a psychiatrist who knows what he’s talking about, it’s the first time that I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and feel like 'okay, okay, I can do this, I can deal with this'. So even though that particular six month period was proper grim, I learned so much about myself and about mental health and how to deal with things and I feel so much stronger for it. So it was nice just having him as a vessel for knowledge - really encouraging.
Over the moon to announce that @RouReynolds, lead singer of @entershikari, will be playing at our MHF Live birthday show. He'll be performing a one-off live acoustic set. Get your tickets now: https://t.co/PrbZjrMwc9 pic.twitter.com/zv0VmbVvTN— Mental Health Fdn (@mentalhealth) June 27, 2019
It sounds like you’re aware of what the triggers are that could send you back into mental ill health, but it doesn’t seem like you’re letting it define you.
It’s a constant struggle isn’t it really. On a normal day-to-day basis, the one that affects me the most is social anxiety. Before 2015 and that period of learning, I just thought that I’d never outgrow… childhood shyness, or that I was just particularly inept at socialising, things like that. I've been able to realise that social anxiety is something that almost everyone is on that sort-of spectrum somewhere, and that we all have those troubles with socialising.
Again, it’s just an evolutionary thing. It’s the pressures of wanting to be accepted and all the worries that go with it. I’m just trying to make sure I’m still pushing myself out of my comfort zone every now and then. And like you say, not being defined by these various things. Um, but yeah, it’s a constant. You have to be conscious of it in order for it not to overtake you and start to define you and limit you, I suppose.
Do you think it’s important for men especially to speak more often about their mental health?
I think particularly in this country because we have the unfortunate history of the Victorian period. I think particularly for males, you know, stiff upper lip, ‘man up’ - all that kind of business - it's embedded into our culture. It's like a hangover we’re still shaking off from the Victorian period, where kids were sent off to boarding schools. It's already not exactly an optimal thing for a child to have to experience, but then there's the typical sort of schooling of not being able to show emotion unless it’s 'accepted emotions' for young boys, like excitement or anger. There’s a very narrow basis of emotions that you think you’re allowed to show - god forbid you show any sort of vulnerability or fragility, which is basically the starting point of our whole species and a natural thing about us.
It’s utterly futile to try and push that to the side or to try and ignore it. We’re still kind of shaking off that hangover at the moment. Obviously we've come on leaps and bounds since then, but, I see it in day-to-day life with some people in my friendship groups who still particularly struggle with opening up. It’s just very important to just keep normalising it and keep saying this is something that as males that we’re all dealing with.
Can you tell us a little bit about your set for the Mental Health Foundation event?
It’s a solo acoustic set, which is something I've only started doing in the last six months really. I’ve done the odd one here and there, but it’s this year that I've released a lyric book with essays about the songs and the intentions of the lyrics and everything. When I was touring for that, I did solo acoustic sets. So now I've kind of built up some confidence and feel like I’m able to pull it off and I enjoyed it so much. I’m happy to do it, it’s something I’m really enjoying - it’s very different from what Enter Shikari do normally. Yeah, it’s good fun. So I’ll just be playing tracks from all through Shikari’s career and maybe a few covers and stuff. Just me and a guitar - nice and simple.
Mental Health Foundation Live will be held on Thursday 18th July from 7 - 11pm at OMEARA, featuring an evening of live music and spoken word headlined by Rou Reynolds (solo acoustic set) and performances by Sorry, Murray Macleod of The XCERTS and spoken word artist Priscila Hernandez. Tickets available here.